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Tips about shopping for clothes in eating disorder recovery

Eating disorder recovery has many ups and downs, but one place people may not expect to get stuck is figuring out what to wear during the process. Still, the issue of eating disorder clothes is common.

As you work to rebuild a healthier relationship with your body and the food you eat, it's natural that your body size and shape will also change. This could make the clothes you wore before treatment suddenly feel physically uncomfortable or even psychologically triggering.

Add in the rigors of an eating disorder treatment program, and it can feel overwhelming to deal with the matter. Should you buy a whole new wardrobe? Should you wait until later in treatment to give your body more time to change? And what do you wear in the meantime?

The issues can make shopping for new clothes intimidating, even if you like clothes shopping. But there are ways to help manage the stress, cope with potential triggers, and change your perspective on clothing fits and sizing that can help the process go more smoothly and help you learn to love what you wear.

7
 minute read
Last updated on 
May 30, 2024
May 30, 2024
How to shop for clothes in eating disorder recovery
In this article
woman shopping for clothes

Tips for finding the best eating disorder recovery clothing

Returning home post-treatment for an eating disorder is a big adjustment, especially when it comes to facing your closet. Here are some tips for shopping for new clothes during eating disorder recovery so you can get the most out of your trip and begin moving forward.

Get rid of old clothes

Old clothes can trigger emotions in a number of ways. They can be upsetting if they no longer fit, or they can remind you of an era when you were struggling.

In a worst-case scenario, this could potentially lead to a relapse or the type of body surveillance that can work against moving forward in the recovery process.

Getting rid of old clothes is the easiest and most efficient way to deal with this issue, preventing you from looking at them or trying them on in times of stress or anxiety. 

Write a list of what you need

After you’ve cleaned out your closet and drawers, take inventory of what you have left. This will help you understand what you have and what you need. Having a set plan in place can help decrease anxiety while shopping.

It may feel sad to get rid of clothes you love, and it's okay to feel this way. But try to remember all the space you're making in your closet for new clothes that will make you look and feel great.

Choose stores and companies with inclusive sizing

Many clothing companies and brands offer a very limited range of sizes, which can be extremely discouraging, especially if you still need to figure out what your best new clothing size is.

Before shopping, research inclusive clothing brands that offer a wide range of fits, sizes, and styles. This can give you more options when you shop, making the experience not only less stressful but also more fun.

Opt for online shopping if in-person is too stressful

Although you can't really tell how something will fit you when you order it online, the experience can still be less stressful than shopping in person.

Crowded malls and stores, encounters with mirrors, pushy sales associates, and people who may unknowingly say something insensitive can all trigger feelings of anxiety. Plus, most online stores offer free returns, so if the clothes don’t fit comfortably, you can still exchange them or get your money back.

Bring a supportive loved one

We aren’t meant to endure challenging situations alone. Bringing a supportive family member or friend can improve your experience in several ways.

Bringing a loved one can be a great idea. From listening to your feelings and concerns to offering helpful feedback about the clothes you try on (especially to prevent you from having to look in the mirror if you find that difficult), bringing a loved one can be a great idea.

Plus, when someone else is there, it doesn't have to feel like the entire experience is "about you" or "about eating disorder recovery clothing." It can help take your mind off those things and make the experience more relaxing.

Do frequent check-ins with yourself

Whether you're with someone else or not, it's important to keep track of yourself and your feelings during the experience.

Shopping for new clothes can be fun or even joyful, but it can also bring up troubling emotions. Schedule breaks to gather yourself, practice deep breathing, channel your emotions, or process with your support person.

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Choose clothes that feel comfortable

Confidence is always the most attractive feature, whether you're wearing a gown or a tuxedo, leggings, or sweatpants. And clothes that make you feel comfortable will also help you feel confident.

With a changing body, it can be challenging to know which clothes will fit, how they'll fit, and how they'll feel on your body, so trying on several sizes or versions of different clothes can be helpful.

This can also be exhausting and potentially triggering, so take all the time you need for the process. If you're shopping with a loved one, they can also help by asking questions like, “How do these clothes make you feel?” and “Are you comfortable wearing that?” 

Assess your clothing for functionality and fit

Aside from comfort, assess how functional your clothing is, especially for various activities you may engage in throughout the day. When you try on new clothes, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I able to cross my legs in these pants?
  • Can I easily sit down and stand up?
  • Am I comfortable walking in this?
  • Are the sleeves and legs the right length?
  • Am I able to bend over and pick something up off the ground?

Of course, you can customize this list based on your daily activities. For example, if you spend a lot of time gardening, you may want pants that are easy to squat and bend over in. 

Use the coping skills you learned in treatment

No matter how well-prepared you are, shopping for clothes will likely cause some sort of stress or anxiety. This is a great time to utilize the coping skills you learned in eating disorder treatment.

This may include strategies learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), such as cognitive restructuring, in which you identify and challenge your thoughts about your body image. You may also use dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, like mindfulness and radical acceptance, to keep you present and avoid judging your thoughts and feelings.

Remind yourself how inaccurate and harmful clothing sizes are

It's easy to say size is just a number. It's harder to ignore the actual number.

Clothing sizes are rarely consistent from brand to brand. Brands have overall reduced their sizing over the past few decades in a practice known as “vanity sizing.” (1) Rather than having anything to do with the actual size of their customers, this is connected to all sorts of problematic messaging and beliefs around body shape, size, and attractiveness.

The issue of sizing can be difficult even for people not in eating disorder recovery. Try to see past the (usually arbitrary) labels and focus on how the clothes make you feel inside. Going for a size that's a certain number but doesn't honor your body shape is a disservice to the beauty you have, just as you are.

Finding help with recovery

Eating disorder recovery hardly ever happens in a straight line. Setbacks and even relapses will happen, and short of that, everyone is entitled to have their bad days.

If you're experiencing difficulty in your recovery, you may want to express your concerns with your therapist or another member of your treatment team. They can help provide additional support or help you work on coping skills and mechanisms that may help. It's never too late to reach out for help.

In the meantime, try to be gentle with yourself. It's okay to experience a setback, especially during a difficult situation like shopping for eating disorder recovery clothing. The important thing is not to let one bad day or even a few bad days ruin the progress you've worked so hard for.

Remember that every day represents a fresh start and a new chance to commit to recovery. It's a difficult process, but the beautiful future it builds toward makes it worth it.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Dockterman, E. (n.d.). Inside the fight to take back the fitting room. Time Magazine. Accessed March 2024.

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